Can I use ‘I’ in my essays?

I have been meeting new international students at university all week – how exciting to see you all! I was advertising our English Language Centre at a session for new students and I met a new American student who said that she couldn’t understand anything on the street in Plymouth! She said that when the lecturers spoke she had no problems, but the when she was out on the street she really found it difficult to understand what people were saying. And I thought, ‘If she has that much trouble, what must it be like for the others who don’t have English as a first language!’ Unfortunately I couldn’t offer her a place in one of our classes because she is a native English speaker, but I am sure she’ll tune in pretty quickly. But please remember guys, the key to tuning in is getting stuck in there and meeting home students. Overseas students are often shy and worried about their English. Sometimes students are so worried about making mistakes that they say nothing at all. Believe me, native speakers don’t care about any mistakes you make when you talk, as long as they can understand you. I understand that the British students’ ‘binge drinking’ habits can be hard to go along with, but not all students are like that. There are plenty of students who like doing other things and go to clubs and are quite keen to meet new people from around the world. Get down to your Student Union and get a list of student societies and join one you like the look of.

The other thing I wanted to mention was to do with the tone and style of academic writing. I marked a number of reports during our summer school in which students had used ‘I’ too often in their writing so that it made the writing too personal. Academic writing in English is impersonal. Here’s a useful link from Leeds University with some examples of phrases using ‘I’ in academic writing and how they have been rewritten to make them better.

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